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Traveling, living, loving, exploring and trying to make some semblance of sense out of this crazy world.  


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Saving Oak Flat, the Petition

So, now that the Flat and much of Apache Leap and Devils Canyon has been given to foreign miners who supply peaceful nations like Iran with parts for their reactors, we will go hat in hand to the distinguished gentleman on Pennsylvania Avenue, who tried to whitewash (so to speak) his treachery by giving Bristol Bay protection

(after watching Keystone slide right through Congress like a Happy Meal and then personally going to the Hill to whip the Spending Bill through when Democrats reacted to the level of pork and unrelated riders in a defense bill)

who just denied Washington, D.C. voters the legalization they demanded, but de-funded the DEA's ability to raid pharmacies or arrest patients

(Which pretty much continues the war on those folks who are marching outside his windows demanding justice and respect from the police.)

No matter what the advocates tell you is a victory, don't suck up crumbs and call it a feast, kids... that's how we, your older peers, let this whole mess slide too far over the edge in the first place, 'k?

Here, however, is the link to the petition.

Stop the Apache Land Grab

Sign it, share it.

Speak out, even if you don't believe in the system.

Make it known that you stood with the planet and the people, not the corporations and their sell-out politicians.

Monday, December 15, 2014


Does anyone else find it ironic that the first black President proved that he can and will break treaties with the Indians just as well as any of his white predecessors...

... while thousands of his people march in the streets, demanding respect and fair treatment?


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Hats off to John Sherman

I'd like to invite everyone who so admires the poster of John Sherman hanging one-handed from a cliff with beer in hand to remember that he sold out to the people who just stole Apache Leap and Queen Creek, ancestral lands for the local Native American tribes, a summer haven from the heat for the residents of the town of Superior, and a world-class climbing and hiking destination.

I'd like to remind those of you who still worship old John that his capitulation and the collusion of several other prominent climbers was used by Resolution to divide and conquer the climbing community and to misrepresent climbers' support of the land swap and mining practices. 

So: a toast! Hats off to shops that suck up to celebrity without truly knowing the history of those iconic figures- it's great that you make your ignorance so obvious, and clearly define yourselves as putting industry over humans or the environment.

Special recognition to the Arizona climbers who used this opportunity to grind 20-yr-old axes and never once got a single one of themselves arrested or had their pic on the front page of the newspaper for demonstrating, inconveniencing the mine and/or shutting down production in any of the ways we used to- oh, say- end the Viet Nam war, save the rain forests and alter the global perceptions of climate change.

Oh, that's right... you all wrote a check, went to a meeting and signed a petition.  

Your work was obviously done.

Never mind.

So hats off to John Sherman! An idealist who said that sport climbing was neither and then sold out to a foreign-owned mining company with ties to Iran and China for the chance to fund his development of sport climbing. 

A pragmatist, who sold out his fellow climbers and sacrificed a cultural heritage he doesn't share in a state where he did not live to make a dollar.

edited for typo, clarity and post-script:

Climbers, we have surrendered.

Surrendered to bureaucracy and to the bandwagon, to going along to get along.

Surrendered to a credo of rationalization instead of action.

We let the advocates who sell out to corporations convince us that, against all the lessons and examples of history, the best course to change is one without confrontation.  

No calls to peaceful sit-ins or mass acts of non-violent protest from the members of advocacy groups that sell themselves on their strength in numbers but fail to carry out the simplest of rallying activities to support their causes.

(Or did I miss the busloads of climbers being shipped from cities across america to rally for Queen Creek?  Were we too busy preparing for the massive carbon-footprint-in-the-making that is Bozeman and the hypocritical media frenzy of Ouray?)

No posts about either the fight for or the loss of this land on 99% of the climbing websites I've browsed over the last week... including those here in West Virginia, where the mountains to our west are being blasted flat for coal, while conservation groups blockade wind farms and the fracking rigs slowly creep across the Allegheny Front, pushing toward Seneca Rocks, Nelson, Champe, Judy Gap, and Smoke Hole Canyon.

But not a word on the local climbing sites, from the local guides or among regional AF folk.

Denial, anyone?

Yes, I am judgmental and harsh and perhaps a touch vindictive- I don't know how many decades you need to lose your glossy shine of oblivion and start to see that we are losing the war for our own lands? 

For me, the answer was about two... I started fighting this fight when I was in my twenties, paused for a bit into my thirties, discovered the lands we have just lost, fell in love with them as deeply as my own green eastern forests and have been in it one way or another ever since.

If we bury our heads in the sand, if we worship celebrities for who they were, without holding them responsible for the positions they've taken and for the inevitable results of their actions, are we just as guilty?  How do Joe Kinder's gardening of two saplings in a crack look when compared to the global environmental impact of another massive mine, whose wholesale destruction of not only recreational opportunities and historical geography but sacred cultural lands of the Native population has been tacitly accepted by a climbing icon, in return for a paycheck?

Where are the editorials and rallying cries from Rock and Ice, Climbing, DPM, or Alpinist?

If we allow those who should be leading and coordinating to instead blockade progress and create more issues than they solve, if we think only in terms of the Pollyanna dogma pushed on us by the vendors, and blindly obey advocates who have never, truly, had our best interests at heart, we will lose Seneca, and the North Fork, Champe, Judy, Nelson, and much of the Blue Ridge. 

Can't happen?

I heard the same thing when I lived in Arizona, in the late 90s and into the new millennium.

Prophecy is a tricky thing, but the worst case scenario seems to come to fruition far more often than the best possible outcome. What happens when, not if, but when Corridor H opens and Route 33 dies away as routine maintenance and cash-carrying traffic goes over the mountains somewhere else, while Seneca and the gas rigs vanish from the public mind and eye?  

Are you willing to bet that the budget-strapped Department of Agriculture and the impoverished Monongahela National Forest will choose users who create impact while paying nothing to the system over corporations and lobbyists waving around amounts in the millions?

I wouldn't bet the farm on another decade of life as it has always been, in Germany Valley, Smoke Hole, or anywhere in the MNF.

If Congress and the President can give away lands that are layered with history, cornerstones of the local ecology, economy, and Native cultures thousands of years old, what makes you think they cannot and will not crave their way through West Virginia, just as they did with the gas lines, PATH and Corridor H? 

What is to stop them from carving their way into the Blue Ridge, across the Skyline Drive, and on to whatever gas-bearing layers they can find, where ever they may find them?

The time for denial, and for blind obedience or worship, is over.

Time to grow up and join the fight, or admit that you are part of the problem, not the solution.

Thank you to Curt Shannon, Manuel Rangel, and all the other fightin' climbers of this country, inside and out of the Access Fund, who truly did give it their best. You have only failed when you fail to try, and there is no shame for those who fought. 

I know you will never truly surrender.

I only wish I could have done so much more.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Two Weeks in the Life of a Working Class Ronin: a visual tour

It begins here; the slow light of dawn, creeping in through the cold, prying sleep out of your eyes and bringing the need for coffee.

Our mailing division, in temporary quarters while we moved, again.  Miss Cindy, in motion.

Consulting with the Skipper...

This kind of fine craftsmanship with caulk (to cover up the fact that you don't know how to build either a sill or a louver) later inspired the Skipper to the delusion that he was a carpenter and woodworker.

That delusion led him to strap a piece of bookshelf bracketing to either side of the truss, connect it with a turnbuckle, and pronounce that a "center brace".

Proof that Iowans did in fact interbreed with tumbleweeds,
and that a month of painstaking effort by two craftsmen to create a thing of lasting beauty can be undone in a matter of minutes by a clueless hack with a screw gun, a pair of sheet metal cutters, and an IQ of 84.

An example of the Skipper's fine sawyer work.  Note the ripped end grain of the beam above, the one that has no pegs in it. Real professional grade work, there.

Because our clueless leader could not find one of the most common bases on the market, Mike fisher enjoys placing four pads with 16 screws on each beam.
Way to speed production, Skippy.

"Right... ahhh... since you are the carpenters, why shouldn't you clean up the roofer's mess and move the masonry supplies out of the mud to get the crane into place?"

"Whaddaya mean they had two weeks to clean the area... you're here, aren't ya?"

"Look, I brought you almost five dollars worth of crap from McD's as a bribe... like you would a dog you were training."

What do you mean you won't do it cheerfully for a bone tossed your way?  Geesh... workers nowadays aren't thankful enough for their jobs!"

Did someone say "bone"?

Despite the worst efforts of far too many stupid people, the finished product, in place, courtesy of the Punishers.

Belated Congratualtions

After 21 days of effort over the course of three months, Mike Farnsworth finally sent his 5.13+ project at Smoke Hole Canyon's Darkside Wall on the weekend of November 8th, 2014. He called the route Cartography of Spirit.

The line, a second variation ending to The Lightness, climbs the center of the wall, working heel hooks, smears and micro-edges through a series of desperate throws between underclings and marginal side-pulls, past several roofs. 

Farnsworth, who has more than one hideous crankfest to his credit, called it "the best and hardest line I've ever done in my life".

Rumor has it that Matt Behrens is geared up for the second ascent.

Farnsworth, Behrens and a handful of other hard climbers from across the East Coast have all taken shots and and falls on the other suspected 13+ in the area, Reed Creek's Cold Day in Hell. That line was bolted by Ryan Eubank in the winter of 2009.  The crux, a long, no-feet reach between a three-finger hole and a mono never went free, and Eubank  installed ring anchors at mid-height to create the three-bolt 5.12 Napoleon Complex from the bottom of the project.

To date, there has been no first ascent of Cold Day in Hell.

The Renovator, trying to decide whether being able to feel his fingers would be a good or bad thing, on an early TR attempt of Cold Day in Hell.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Along with the Weather

Tomorrow, along with the inclement weather that will cloud most of the eastern seaboard, some of you should receive what we hope will be a ray of sunshine...

Thanks to the diligent efforts of our hard-working mailing department at Owlfeather Productions, the next batch of guides and T-shirts went out on Monday morning, as soon as the post office opened in Petersburg, West Virginia.

Soon, a new generation of explorers will be shredding the crags of Smoke Hole and Reed's Creek, like these folks;

Corey McKenzie above the bouldery start of Reaching Conclusions, Reed's Creek

The Usual Suspects, aka, the Adrenaline Crew.

...the big one on the left end hugged me...

Cindy warming up on Second Rule, with John Riedel 

Michael Fisher, rollin' coal through the first ascent of his steep, technical line La Machina, Reed's Creek

Look for them in the mail beginning tomorrow!

Monday, November 24, 2014


- you promised!  No more slagging on the Access Fund!

I'm not slagging on them- I'm asking you to...

After all, I'm not the one paying my hard-earned wages so they can have an office in Boulder, CO.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Limited Distribution

The new Smoke Hole Canyon guide books are being mailed out this week, again, as they were for the last two weeks, along with PHAR/UP Smoke Hole ROCKS t-shirts.
If you missed the Kickstarter campaign, you may be out of luck, getting either one.
This author decided that West Virginia already had one too many guidebooks that were published and nationally distributed that included a troubled access crag. The author who wrote that guide and climbing shops that sold it made a nice profit, and the climbing community was left to pay for and clean up the mess.
I'll leave that kind of thing to the folks in Meadow River.
So, for now, the only people getting their hands on the guide will be the people who pre-ordered by backing the Kickstarter campaign.
Want that to change?
Then I'm asking you to tell your Access advocates and affiliates that it is time to stop sitting on the fence about Franklin Gorge.
To tell them that having regional coordinators who do little more than disparage the abilities of volunteers and veto trail work is worse than having no coordinators at all.
To tell them that AF members shouldn't trespass on private cliffs, even if they are guides.
Tell the Access Fund, MACC and all the rest of your advocates that, when it comes to impact, "don't ask, don't tell" doesn't work... it never has and it never will.
They're your membership fees and your crags- wouldn't some accountability be nice?
Just sayin'

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Back in the Field

First things first-

Thanks so much to Nicholas Kurland for taking an active role in trail work around the area, and to Chris Egress and Tyler Hall for donating two bags of canned goods during our last Trail Daze event, food donations for the local family that lives on $1000 per month that we are trying, in our own small way, to help. These folks keep an eye on one of the most popular crags in the area, and this is just one way we can say thank you.

This is also a cease-fire on the Access Fund.

When they do something worth noting in the local area, I let you know.

Til then, nuff said.

Spent Friday night with grandchildren and their parents afterr a hundred mile drive through insane rush-hour traffic.

Rose early and loaded gear, headed off into the Potomac Highlands and spent Saturday night camped in the Beast, with the company of my lovely wife for a change, after an incredible day hiking the North Fork Trail and an evening spent with some old friends in the shadow of Eagle Rock.

We rose early and rolled to our gear cache, then made our way to the canyon as the first churchgoers stirred. Rumbling off the main drag, we found a parking spot near the project, where I quickly assembled the tools to cook pancakes, crepes, and eggs in the cold morning shadows at the west end of the Main Arch of the Entrance Walls.

Curious eyes stared from passing cars as we spread raspberry preserves, rolled tortillas and downed French-pressed French roast (French squared coffee, you might say).

The single burner Coleman was still cooling when a white pickup and two cars pulled in to disgorge our friends Mike, Kyle, Nick, Travis, Joe, and several more, all bound for a project and great lines on the Long Branch Wall in the lower canyon.

We talked about Franklin access, routes on the wall above, the imminent release of the guidebook and the other crags of the canyon, before we made our good-byes and they were off to the races and new routing, while I turned to the task at hand.

Up along the trail, ferns still peeking green and moss glowing between the autumn leaves despite several recent cold snaps, sunlight slanting in from the south as I weave between dead falls and ledges on the plateau.

I loop the old tree on the cliff's edge with the ease of practice and think that soon, very soon, I will not have to make this hike to reach the line.  I rest a hand on the rough bark and silently thank the old pine for staying deeply rooted and alive long enough for me to do my work.  I will miss this hike, the peering step out to the edge, the smell of the pine as I lean in close and work the rope around the trunk.

Soon, very soon, I think, I won't make these hikes at all.

But not today.

I triple check every link in the chain and rap down over the short face to the ledge, then add a bit of line to one side of my rappel and continue down over the roof to the anchors.

Swing in close, clip in with an adjustable daisy, back that up with a second runner on the other anchor. Clio the long side of the the rappel line into the biners on the anchor and pull rope from the long side until the tail comes off of the ground.   Tie a keeper overhand knot in the rope to keep it from feeding back and begin slowly pulling the rope leading up to the original rappel tree, pausing to remove the knot from the end, then once again curling in against the anchors as the end whips down, bringing a shower of twigs and pine needles but, thankfully, no rocks.

Knot the end and drop to the base, clip into and double check rap system, and down we go to the scene of last weekend's rap-bolting epic. The hole where the traitor bit sheared off taunts me as I set a nasty hook behind some crusty rock in a horizontal and ease in close, like a bomb disposal expert on an IED.

Nothing blows, and three minutes later I making dust and noise as the Bosch punches another hole into the limestone.

Another hour of drilling, cleaning, contemplation and rappel sees me back on the ground with six bolts on the line. Andrew Suter, Corey McKenzie and their whitewater companion Alise (sp?) arrive as I shed gear and we spend a few minutes saying hello before they go in search of Entranc Walls fun and I wander off in search of my wife, fishing the South Branch as eagles soar above us.

The Punisher is back in the field, Miss Cindy is somewhere wrangling trout, God is in his Heaven and, for just this one moment, all is right with the world.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Halloween- Trail Daze #10

Thanks so very much to Tyler Hall and Gray C, Shane and Chris Egress,Josiah WeeksScott DrummondNicholas Kurland and Cindy Gray for braving temperatures in the 30's, overcast skies, cold winds and drizzle to make Saturday another in a series of incredible Trail Daze events.

In a matter of hours, this crew built a new switchback to reduce impact on a beautiful old oak tree, removed all traces of the older trail, and did an amazing job of shoring up the trail and stabilizing the belay below Superman.

Strategy session

(L to R) Scott Drummond, Nick Kurland and Chris Egress dig in.

Josiah sez: No gluten or dairy, just CAFFEINE!!!

When the work was done, the rock wranglers descended to inhale chicken pasta salad, power gels and chocolate, then, despite the occasional shower of rain, they dragged out packs and headed back up their freshly-laid trail to tear up some routes.

Nick Kurland and friend Eric worked their way methodically across the wall, dispatching my routes Still Laughing (5.10) and Reaching Conclusions (5.10). After several hangs and combinations of moves, they sent Ryan Eubank's Golden Horseshoe (5.10+) and fought through Fisher's Hunter's Moon (5.10+).  Josiah Weeks, fresh back from the Red River Gorge, warmed up on the great moderate Second Rule with mountain bike madman Scott Drummond on belay , while Tyler Hall and Chris Egress battled the powerful, hard-to-read start of Mike Fisher's La Machina.  

Nick Kurland snaps for the ledge on Golden Horseshoe, one of the great 5.10s to be found at The Reach, Reed's Creek

Tyler Hall rolls through the lower cruxes of Hunter's Moon

Chris Egress cranks through the roof on La Machina

Leaving the youngsters to shred, I collected my wife, relaxing with some friends who actually live above the crag, and we headed off to prepare for a night at Thorn Springs Campground.

We chowed pizza and Halloween candy, talked over issues of the day and assorted trivia of global importance, sipped tasty adult carbohydrate replacement beverages and handed out T-shirts to all our volunteers.

The day's work and play finally caught up with us all around 10 p.m. Good nights were made and we hit the racks.

Cindy rose early to begin frying bacon and making mounds of oatmeal pancakes, and I eyed snow pellets falling from rolling skies as I summoned the survivors to breakfast.

Crispy bacon, pancakes, Sunny D and French press coffee: the Trail Daze crew relaxes post breakfast (courtesy of PHAR/UP and Cindy Gray) in Cabin 51, Thorn Spring Campground

Shane Egress: a force of nature

The South Branch of the Potomac glitters and shines in the autumn sun.

Interesting fact- we have now held EIGHT more local trail work events than the corporate-funded Access Fund, and almost all of our events were funded out-of-pocket or by donations fromsmall companies and local climbers... as opposed to shilling the only automobile without a hybrid or cams made in China.

Outside of Seneca, the two local events in which the Access Fund did (belatedly) participate were created, organized and seen to completion by a non-member.... can you guess who?

PHAR/UP: local climbers making a real difference. 

Being part of the solution, instead of the problem, for over a decade.

Contact us today for information on Trail Daze, local crags and the Smoke Hole Shuttle Service: (304) 668-2856; via email: phar.up.2014@gmail.com